Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs @Music Hall of Williamsburg, Sept. 29th

As I write this entry, I'm two hours into my birthday. What better way to ring in the new year than with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Totally outrageous and mega-high energy, the band had the floor shakin' tonight. Karen O. was fierce as always, yet gracious to the Brooklyn crowd, remembering the YYYs' roots. As overplayed as "Maps" may be, I never get tired of it, especially this beautiful acoustic iteration:

I love you, too, Yeah Yeah Yeahs!

Excellent Y-shaped confetti!

As for opening act, Services, let's just say for me they were the musical equivalent of monkeys throwing feces and leave it at that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yo La Tengo @Roseland Ballroom, Sept. 25th

The concert gods smiled upon me again as I won a pair of VIP tickets to see Yo La Tengo at the (dreaded) Roseland Ballroom, thanks to The Music Slut. This was not the first time I had won tix to see YLT -- it has been almost exactly three years since I got my ass flown via helicopter to see them in Jersey City, and I took dear brother Ste (newly engaged, might I add!) once again to see our faves. Luckily, our VIP status enabled us to sit upstairs in the very spacious Mezzanine, which suited me just fine after two prior consecutive nights of seeing Elvis Costello and U2, respectively. Muchas gracias! Coincidentally, Shana also won a pair of tickets (but not VIP) so I managed to smuggle her and Julie up for a pretty relaxing evening.

I was looking forward to seeing this show after seeing them perform an abbreviated set when they opened for Wilco at Coney Island a few months ago. Also, it's always refreshing to see these guys play -- they seem rather unpretentious (especially after seeing someone like Bono the night before), and they manage to mix up their shows quite a bit that one would be hard pressed to call them repetitive.

Tonight, YLT augmented their show with a light show by Joshua White and Gary Panter projected on a large screen at the rear of the stage. It very much reminded me of the time they played The Sounds Of Science at the Prospect Park Bandshell, but this time without the angry octopus. From the Mezzanine, I had a good vantage point from which to spy the setup. The band played on the stage where you'd expect them to be:

while the light show crew of about ten people worked behind the screen:

Pretty nifty! It resulted in a great psychedelic backdrop which pulsated and evolved with the trippy music, kinda like seeing the old Pink Floyd laser light show at the Hayden Planetarium, except live and more organic. Here's a cut off their latest album, Popular Songs, entitled "Here To Fall," during which they brought on a small troupe of accompanying strings:

The evening featured a setlist of material that spanned their career, as well as their diverse range of styles, from guitar shredding riffs to perfect head bopping, finger snapping melodies. They switched off on instruments and vocals quite a bit, demonstrating their truly collaborative effort. My appreciation for Yo La Tengo only grows more and more.

I also recorded videos for my favorite song, "Autumn Sweater," and the last song, a requested oldie called "The Whole Of The Law," as well as the rest of my pics on my Flickr.

There was additional support by Susquehanna Tool & Die Co. (of whom we unfortunately caught only the slightest glimpse), comedian John Oliver (très drôle), and The Black Lips (très noisy and hard to understand).

Thanks to Brooklyn Vegan for the link.

Friday, September 25, 2009

U2 @Giants Stadium, Sept. 24th

Is there anything more that really needs to be said about powerhouse U2??? Holy shit, they know how to put on a show! Armed with a pair of General Admission tickets thanks to a sacrifice by Wawa, Bestest Boy and I got to Giants Stadium just after 4pm and ended up in the very center of the pit inside the coveted area enclosed by the circular catwalk. Astounding views all around. Sure, it would have been interesting to see the weird spaceship beehive staging from a farther away vantage, but who am I kidding -- nothing beats being up close to these four amazing men who only seem to get better with age. They are requisite viewing for anyone who is a fan of live music. I'm telling ya -- you must see them at least once in your lifetime!

Setlist is here. My complete set of photos is here.

Muse @Giants Stadium, Sept. 24th

Muse were an awesome way to start up the crowd waiting for U2. They are full of energy and play the kind of music that fills a stadium quite nicely, unlike the last time I saw U2 and the snoozerville Keane opened. Lead singer Matthew Bellamy is a talented singer and musician. I was quite impressed by his piano playing, as well as by his posturing with guitar in hand. Critics might complain they're too derivative of my favorites, Radiohead, with a little Queen tossed in, but for a full 45 minutes, I was fully entertained. I definitely was reminded of some of my favorite Guitar Hero moments.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Elvis Costello @The Apollo Theater, Sept. 23rd

Lucky enough to land a pair of free tickets, Shana and I attended tonight's taping of "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With..." at the legendary Apollo Theater. (Is it possible to mention the venue without appending the word "legendary?") We showed up early at the front of the line and easily grabbed great seats in the 5th row of the center orchestra with a view right in front of the interview chairs. This episode featured three American folk singer-songwriters: elder statesman John Prine, Lone Star slinger Lyle Lovett, and the young old soul Ray LaMontagne.

The format of the evening went as follows: Costello played a short solo set, then he brought out each artist individually for two songs solo followed by an interview segment then by a third song (either with or without Costello), and to finish, all four men got on stage as a group for two last songs.

Musically speaking, the selections were pretty delicious with many highlights. To kick off the evening, Costello opened with two oldies from his debut album, My Aim Is True -- "Poison Moon" and "Wave A White Flag" solo on guitar. Prine, whose music I've heard covered by other artists, sang two songs that were lyrically complex, yet different in style -- "That's The Way The World Goes 'Round," which was amusing, and "Lake Angela Marie," which was quite poetic. Lovett sang wonderfully, including a new unreleased tune which he claimed he wrote while watching a football game that had a funny beer commercial next to a news segment. Third came LaMontagne, who opened with a rousing stripped-down solo acoustic version of the radio-friendly "You Are The Best Thing" with a different arrangement, and then his "Jolene." Finally, the men played "Loretta" by Townes Van Zandt and Prine's "Angel From Montgomery." In total, we heard 14 songs, with a few repeats.

Interview-wise, I thought the success varied with each guest. Overall, I'd say Costello is a compelling host, obviously full with his own stories and geek trivia. When Prine was in the chair, Costello showed great deference and allowed Prine to tell some amusing stories. I can see why Prine is viewed with tremendous respect by many musicians. However, when Lovett sat for a conversation, it really became the Elvis Costello story-telling hour with little input from Lovett, who seemed like a perfectly capable and nice guy. Shana suggested that it was the Texan gentleman in Lovett, who was too polite to interrupt Costello, who'd ask a question, and as Lovett got out a sentence, would then hijack the conversation with his own story over and over again. With LaMontagne's segment, Costello had a bit more success than with Lovett, as LaMontagne seemed reluctant to embrace any kind of attention, so Costello had to coax him out some. I quite enjoyed LaMontagne's deadpan retort, when asked if he hated people -- "No, I love people. I just (really) hate assholes."

The evening was interesting as it was being filmed for television over the course of probably over 3 hours, with a few retakes of some songs, but hey, we weren't complaining. Mostly, I liked the idea of attending a musical event in a great seated venue with excellent sound and musicianship, and no one talking or texting or taking pictures or smoking rudely next to you, and the crowd showing great enthusiasm (even if on cue). I understand that the program itself is an hour (with commercials?), so it will be interesting to see how they edit down the footage. I had a great evening listening to a bunch of talented musicians to whom I might not normally listen, and finally got to see a bit of Elvis Costello live. Costello is a great musician with excellent stories and knowledge to share, and I really have to see him perform properly at some point!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rhett Miller @The Bell House, Sept. 16th

Perhaps I do have too much time on my hands nowadays. This afternoon, I decided to pay a bit more attention to my Twitter feed and saw this contest for free tickets to the Rhett Miller show later in the evening. Almost an hour had gone by since the contest was tweeted, and I figured someone had to have beaten me to the punch, but I went ahead and emailed my googled answer of "Homeward Bound," and lo and behold, I won. I got in touch with Shana and we figured why not go tonight -- it'd be a nice, free opportunity to check out The Bell House again (our prior visit being the disappointing Pains show in March).

Before tonight, I have to admit my greatest exposure to Rhett Miller was when he appeared in the movie "The Break-Up," in which the two main characters, played by
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, share a love of Rhett's main band, Old 97s. As much as I dig alt-country acts like Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, The Jayhawks, Golden Smog, Ryan Adams, and the like, I never got around to checking out Rhett and his bandmates. Ah well.

I enjoyed Rhett's solo iteration, backed by a solid trio known as The Serial Lady Killers. The first part of the show, which focused mainly on stuff from his latest album (I think), had a high energy level, but felt a bit pushed, rushed and one might even say rambunctious because it did not let up -- like the music wanted to breathe but couldn't. Not until the acoustic guitar was brought out did I feel like Rhett really hit his stride, allowing for some nuance to filter in. But by then, he had really captured my attention. I realized I did know a few of the songs (including the overly? romantic "Question," which I decided right then and there I really liked), helping me get into the set more. The last third of the set list delved into older stuff and grew looser and more honky-tonk.

Seeing Rhett Miller reminded me of times I have seen other musicians like Jesse Malin or the Bielanko Brothers from Marah or Pete Yorn -- solid singer-songwriters on guitar who infuse great energy and stage presence into their live performances (and it doesn't hurt that they're pretty darn cute, too). While I might not rush out and buy every album in their catalogs, I have a pretty good time watching some good time rock 'n roll in intimate settings.

Shana and I got to The Bell House just in time to catch the first opener, Mia Riddle and Her Band, whom we really, really enjoyed. Her music was probably more akin to what Shana and I have been listening to lately, full of great harmonies between Mia and her keyboardist, Amy Merrill. I am superglad we didn't miss any of this band's music.

For the last song, Mia took off her shoes so she could jump around on stage, barefoot. Totally adorable.

The second opener was Jim Ward, of Sleepercar, Sparta and At The Drive-In fame, who bravely appeared by himself with acoustic guitar and nothing/no one else. While he was a very skilled guitarist and singer, I couldn't get really into his music too much. A little too scream-o for my tastes. If I had to make a comparison, I'd have to say Dashboard Confessional (not that I'm that familiar) with a little Rufus Wainwright and Mark Eitzel thrown in. Weird, I know.